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Most auto accident attorneys in Los Angeles and throughout the country work on a contingency fee basis. While this generally means your attorney will only be paid if they succeed in getting you money, it is essential to understand the specifics—including fee percentages, how costs are handled as the case progresses, and what to expect in costs overall.

What Is a Contingency Fee?

Most personal injury attorneys, including auto accident lawyers, charge on a contingency fee basis. A contingency fee is what it sounds like. It’s contingent on the outcome of your case. Specifically, your attorney will not get paid unless you do. In other words, your attorney will not get paid if they do not successfully obtain monetary compensation for you. It is the type of fee arrangement most commonly used in auto accident cases. This fee system ensures you will not potentially pay thousands of dollars out of pocket in lawyer fees before knowing if you will successfully recover compensation.  

A contingency fee arrangement means you won’t have to pay money to the lawyer to get your case started, and you will not pay an hourly fee for an unknowable number of hours. Your attorney will only collect a fee if you:

  • Reach a settlement agreement with the defendant, or
  • Win a jury award or judgment in your favor after your case goes to trial.

Simply put, a contingency fee depends on a successful outcome in your case. Your lawyer gets paid when you get paid.

Other Types of Lawyer Fee Arrangements

While most car accident lawsuits are paid on a contingent basis, there are different fee arrangements that a lawyer and client may agree to, depending on the particular situation. 

Sometimes an attorney will provide a particular legal service for a flat or fixed fee. For instance, maybe you are only seeking help from an attorney to draft a letter to the other driver’s insurance company. In this case, the lawyer might charge you a fixed fee to write the letter only. 

How Much Does a Lawyer Get from a Car Accident Settlement?

Now that you know you have nothing to lose by hiring a lawyer for your accident case, you probably still have some questions. One common question is, If my case is successful, what percentage do accident lawyers take? The average contingency fee in car accident cases is 33% of the settlement or court award. However, the average contingency fee in car accident cases ranges from 33% to 45% depending on several factors, including the complexity of the case and the amount of work involved.

Any attorney fee, even a contingency fee, has to be agreed upon by both client and attorney, so you should be well informed of the price upfront before you formally hire the lawyer or firm. 

You can even negotiate a reduced contingency fee percentage in some cases. Sometimes lawyers may be willing to set contingency fee percentages on a sliding scale, depending on how quickly the case resolves. For example, a lawyer may charge:

  • Thirty-five percent if the case settles without necessitating a lawsuit,
  • Forty percent if a lawsuit is filed but the case settles before trial, and
  • Forty-five percent if the case goes to trial.

During your initial consultation, ensure you fully understand the anticipated fees and ask for clarification if anything is unclear. 

What Am I Paying For?

Attorney fees cover a variety of services provided to the client. The specific services provided will depend on the nature of the case. Standard legal services that may be included in lawyer fees are:

  • Initial consultation to assess your case;
  • Preliminary research;
  • Preparation of letters and court pleadings;
  • Negotiations with the insurance company and defense counsel;
  • Court appearances;
  • Discovery investigation, depositions, reviewing evidence;
  • Engaging experts;
  • Preparation of legal arguments and briefs;
  • Trial preparation; and
  • Representation at trial.

This is not an exhaustive list, and there might be other services your attorney provides during your case. At your initial case assessment, your lawyer should discuss specific legal services relevant to your lawsuit.

How Are Costs Handled in Car Accident Cases?

In any legal matter, there are a certain amount of costs involved. Costs are separate from fees. 

Car accident lawyer costs do not represent the attorney’s fees for the work involved. Instead, they refer to out-of-pocket expenses associated with the case and can include the following:

  • Filing fees,
  • Charges for obtaining medical records and copies of any reports,
  • Photocopying fees,
  • Expert witness costs, and 
  • Court reporter fees for depositions. 

Depending on the individual factors and complexity of the case, costs can add up quickly and easily rack up to thousands of dollars, especially if your attorney needs to use multiple, reputable, highly qualified experts.

Your fee agreement with your attorney should specify how such costs are to be handled. Many lawyers will cover the upfront costs for you and allow you to reimburse them upon receiving your settlement or award. It is essential to know if your lawyer expects to be compensated for expenses even if you do not win your case. You should also clearly understand when the costs will be deducted from any award or settlement you receive. Specifically, will the costs be deducted before or after your lawyer’s fee is calculated? This matters because if the attorney fee is deducted before costs, their fee will be more significant.  

Be sure to have a thorough understanding of the services covered by the legal fees and regularly review the billing statements to ensure that the fees are fair and reasonable.

Do I Need a Personal Injury Lawyer for an Auto Accident Case? 

The law does not require that you hire an attorney to pursue a car accident lawsuit. However, we strongly encourage all car accident victims to consult a lawyer when filing a lawsuit. Even if you have represented yourself in other legal matters, a car accident case differs significantly from minor small claims cases or an uncontested divorce matter. Even a minor car accident claim can be challenging to navigate alone. Auto accident cases often involve multiple defendants with deep pockets and lots of lawyers on their side, as well as extensive discovery and litigation. It is easy to get swallowed up by the complexity if you do not have an attorney. And if you don’t have an attorney, insurance companies know you are vulnerable to their payout-reducing tactics.

Remember, insurance adjusters and defendants try to pay the least amount possible. They may get you to accept a less-than-fair or lowball settlement. Once you take an offer—that’s it. You can not go back for more money, even if your expenses continue to climb far past the amount you accepted. Our job is to protect your rights and interests throughout the case and not allow the opposition to take advantage of you. 

Los Angeles Car Accident Lawyers

At Peerali Law, we believe in getting good people the justice they deserve. We will stop at nothing to see that you and your family receive adequate compensation for your injuries. Contact us to schedule a free consultation to discuss your options!

Author Photo

Kristopher earned his J.D. at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law where he was a member of the Review of Law and Social Justice honors law journal and was awarded several scholastic honors.

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